There's no denying that Duke Nuke is a colossal figure in gaming's shared cultural memory. Sure, some of his games might not have been the best and they were always controversial for one reason or another, but Duke is an icon who many older gamers remember quite fondly. And now one of his earliest adventures, Duke Nukem 2, has been released on the App Store, set to bring nostalgia to some and a taste of history to newcomers. But should we still hail to the king? Or is this classic better left hidden away in the annals of history?
Duke Nukem 2 was first released in 1993 on PCs running MS-DOS, so that should already give you an idea for what this game is like if you've never played it. You take control of Duke Nukem and all of the badassitude he brings to the table as he makes his way through four episodes of side-scrolling mayhem.
Each episode consists of about eight levels that will have you running, gunning, jumping, climbing, and collecting your way to victory. Enemies are a-plenty in the game, but Dukes a certified BAMF, so he has access to all manner of weaponry that will help destroy his foes.
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, it is! It's a side-scrolling action game from the early '90s, so you're not going to get a ton of depth. What you will get, however, is a challenging run through 32 levels of retro carnage. There's nothing in the way of skill trees, character customization options, weapon upgrades, or anything else to slow you down. Nope, it's just you, Duke, his many power-ups, and a buttload of bad guys on themed stages with simple objectives to complete, such as destroying radar dishes, grabbing keys and keycards to progress, and destroying aliens.
There's not much more to it than that, folks. So let's take a look at how this simple package is presented, shall we? Both the iPhone and iPad versions have this weird border/overlay that makes it appear as if you are playing the game on a monitor, with the big Duke Nukem 2 logo hanging up above the screen and in the middle.
Immediately, I knew that this would be annoying, because the game gives you messages that scroll at the top of the screen, but most of the text ends up being covered up by the overlay. While this doesn't break the experience, it certainly seems like a weird design choice to obscure our view of the entire screen.
But it's not like we're in for a visual masterpiece, so I guess that's not too bad. The game boasts 256-color VGA graphics, so while it was impressive at the time, the visuals have definitely not aged very well. Still, it's very cool to shoot up aliens and see their parts go flying everywhere in an explosion of green flesh. Gotta love early '90s video game gore.
The soundtrack fares a little better and provides some rockin' tunes to which you can send your enemies to their respective makers. You've got some driving hard rock that fits the tone for Duke's rampage and it's a pleasure to listen to while you run around and turn enemies into wee little particles.
But the controls are where I find myself having the biggest gripes, since you're only given two virtual buttons to use. One is a virtual thumbstick or directional pad (which you can move around in the settings), and a Fire button. To jump, you have to press anywhere in the middle of the screen. Maybe it was too much trouble to add a dedicated jump button, but it's something I would have liked, since my thumb only serves to obscure my view even more.
The worst part is that the Fire button only registered my presses about 75% of the time. The other 25% resulted in me getting thwacked in the face by an android or an alien. It was pretty annoying.
All in all, Duke Nukem 2 isn't a bad game; it's just not a good game. It doesn't have the legendary status of Duke Nukem 3D, so playing this, even with nostalgia goggles on, just makes you groan at how dated the gameplay is and wish for something better. It's only $1.99, but that's still a little bit high for what's basically a novelty. Unless you're a huge Duke Nukem fan, you can go ahead and skip this. Duke may be the king, but this release makes me wish he'd abdicate.